Holocaust Memorial trashed by homeless, causing visitors pain

May 31, 1991|By Lynda Robinson

Downtown Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial is being desecrated daily by a growing legion of homeless people who use the stark concrete-and-stone monument as a place to sleep, drink or take refuge from the streets.

Visitors to the memorial at Gay and Lombard streets often discover piles of human feces, the stench of urine and empty liquor bottles littering the plaza, which was built in remembrance of the 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

"It's just disgusting," says Annette Lieberman, who handles Holocaust education for the Baltimore Jewish Council, the organization that built and manages the memorial. "I've gotten letters from people from out of town who go there thinking they are going to be moved, and they are -- to anger."

The condition of the memorial is especially upsetting to Holocaust survivors, who frequently use the monument as a substitute gravesite for loved ones lost in concentration camps, she added.

"When they go down there and see that nobody's respecting it, it's just another stab to them," Ms. Lieberman said.

Both the council and the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks work to keep the plaza clean and preserve the dignity of the memorial. A city maintenance worker cleans the plaza every day and keeps the grass cut, according to Alma Bell, a spokeswoman for the parks department.

Ms. Lieberman did not fault the city's efforts.

"The city can clean it up in the morning, and an hour later it doesn't look a damn bit better," she said. "It's just another indication of the tragedy of the homeless. They have nowhere else to go."

The council has been working on plan to enclose the plaza with a fence to keep people out at night. The plan also would create a more effective link between the plaza, which faces Water Street, and a statue of Holocaust victims being consumed by flames, which was added three years ago and faces Lombard Street.

The improvements and the establishment of a permanent trust fund to pay for maintenance of the memorial will cost more than $120,000. But nothing can be done until the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which funds the council's projects, comes up with the money. And money is scarce at a time at a

time of other needs -- Soviet Jews flooding into Israel and the United States, and 14,000 Ethiopian Jews airlifted to Israel.

"It comes at a somewhat difficult time," acknowledged Darrel Friedman, president of the federation, formerly Associated Jewish Charities. "But this is going to be done."

Art Abramson, executive director of the council, also expressed confidence that the problems will be solved.

"We will find the money to correct the problem," he said. "One way or another it will be done. This community will not allow this deplorable situation to continue."

Jews and Christians gather at the memorial every year for a Yom Hashoa service, a day of remembrance for Holocaust victims. The memorial was built in 1980 at a cost of more than $150,000 after 12 years of planning, fund-raising and debate.

Many Jews wanted the memorial erected in Northwest Baltimore -- the center of the city's Jewish community, recalled Alvin Fisher, one of the driving forces behind the monument and a member of the council's executive board.

But the memorial was built downtown after the city offered to give the council an entire block adjacent to the campus of the Community College of Baltimore.

The site was within walking distance of the Inner Harbor, making it possible for non-Jews from all over the country to learn about the Holocaust, Mr. Fisher said.

He and other members of the council were concerned about the proximity of The Block, Baltimore's infamous porn district, but no one envisioned the explosion of homeless people.

"They had homeless then, but it wasn't as prevalent," he said. "That multiplied way beyond what anyone imagined."

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